Istanbul informationTurkish Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, ancient Byzantium is the most populous city of Turkey. It is the cultural and economic center of Turkey. It is nicknamed "The City on Seven Hills" because the old part of the town was built on seven hills. The city extends both on the European and on the Asian side of the Strait of Bosporus, making it the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents.
The city has a population of 11,372,613 residents according to the latest consensus of 2007. The old, walled city of Istanbul stands on a triangular peninsula between Europe and Asia. In its history, more than 2,500 years old, it was a bridge and a barrier between the two continents, so often in conflicts as a result of different religions, cultures, and during a long period of time the Turkish imperial power.
The name Byzantium may derive from that of Byzas, who, according to legend, was leader of the Greeks who built the city about 657 BC. In AD 196 the Roman emperor Septimus Severus rebuilt the demolished city, naming it Augusta Antonina in honor of his son. In AD 330 Constantine the Great proclaimed the city New Rome. It was in 1930 that the Turkish Post Office officially changed the name of the town into Istanbul.
Located on the Bosporus strait in the northwest of the country, encompassed by Golden Horn forming a natural harbor, Istanbul is situated at 41°00' Latitude North and 29°00' Longitude East. The Straight of Bosporus, which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, divides the city into a European side, comprising the historic and economic centers and an Asian, Anatolian side. Istanbul is situated near the North Anatolian Fault on the boundary between the African and Eurasian plates. This fault zone, which runs from northern Anatolia to the Sea of Marmara, has been responsible for several deadly earthquakes throughout the city's history. Istanbul covers a total area of 1,538.77 square kilometers.
The old city covers about 23 square km (9 square miles), but the present municipal boundaries stretch for more than 254 square km (98 square miles), including areas on both sides of the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. The waters round the peninsula are called “the three seas”: they are the Golden Horn, the Bosporus, and the Sea of Marmara.
Istanbul has a Mediterranean climate. Temperatures in north-western Turkey, including Istanbul, are influenced by two competing seafaring winds—the north-easterly Poyraz wind, which brings cool air off the Black Sea, and the stronger, south-westerly Lodos wind, which provides warm air from over the Mediterranean. Summers are relatively hot and dry, with July and August each averaging 23°C (73°F) and only four days of rain. During winter it is cold, wet and often snowy. The temperatures in January and February are about 5°C (41°F). The highest temperature ever recorded in Istanbul is 41°C (106°F) and the lowest temperature ever recorded is -9°C (16°F). Late spring and early autumn are very pleasant and therefore the best times to visit the city. The weather is moderate with enough sunshine though the nights can be chilly with rain fall.
Istanbul historyThe early period - Byzantium
Byzantium was one of the many colonies founded from the end of the 8th century onward along the coasts of the Bosporus and the Black Sea by Greek settlers from the cities of Miletus and Megara. In the 5th and 6th century BC it changed between several rulers. Byzantium accepted Macedonian rule under Alexander the Great, regaining independence only with the eclipse of Macedonian power.
A free city under Rome, it gradually fell under imperial control and briefly lost its freedom under the Emperor Vespasian. In 196 AD the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus destroyed and annexed the city to Rome. In the subsequent civil wars that broke out in the Roman Empire, Byzantium remained untouched until the arrival of the Emperor Constantine I - the first Roman ruler to adopt Christianity. Constantine became head of the whole Roman Eastern and Western Empire. He decided to make Byzantium its capital. Constantinople became one of the great world capitals, the center of imperial power, a city of immense wealth and beauty, and the capital city of the Western world.
The Christian Empire lasted for 1130 years. Constantinople was also an ecclesiastical center. In 381 AD it became the seat of a patriarch who was second only to the bishop of Rome; the patriarch of Constantinople is still the nominal head of the Orthodox church.
During the reign of Justinian I (527–565 AD) medieval Constantinople attained its peak. Decline of the city started with the plague that killed three out of every five inhabitants in 542.
In 1203 the armies of the Fourth Crusade appeared before Constantinople. Although the city fell, it remained under its own government for a year. On April 13, 1204 however, the Crusaders rushed into the city. The Crusading knights installed Baldwin of Flanders as Emperor, and the Venetians took control over the church. The period of Latin rule (1204 to 1261) was the most disastrous in the history of Constantinople. Even the bronze statues were melted down for coins, all the valuables were taken away.
When Constantinople was captured by the Ottoman Turks, the town was almost deserted. The sultan Mehmed II repopulated the town and around 1480 the population had grown between 60,000 and 70,000.
Hagia Sophia and other Byzantine churches were transformed into mosques. After Mehmed II, Istanbul underwent a long period of peaceful growth, interrupted only by natural disasters; earthquakes, fires, and plague. The sultans and their ministers devoted themselves to the building of fountains, mosques, palaces, and charitable foundations so that the aspect of the city was soon completely transformed. The most brilliant period of Turkish construction coincides with the reign of the Ottoman ruler Süleyman the Magnificent (1520–1566).
The next major change in the history of Istanbul occurred at the beginning of the 19th century. Istanbul was discovered by rich European visitors who, since the 1830s, could reach Istanbul by steamship. The first bridge across the Golden Horn was built in 1838.
Istanbul tourist attractionsByzantine monuments
Very few remains from the Byzantium that Constantine chose as the site of New Rome are left. Only the base of the column from 4th century and several columns from 5th century. The only well-preserved example of Byzantine palace architecture is the shell of a three-story rectangular building dating from about 1300, called the Palace of Constantine, attached to the land walls.
Byzantine churches are the largest legacy from the capital of the vanished Empire. Most of them have been transformed into mosques that are still in use.
Hagia Sophia, whose name means “Divine Wisdom” is the most famous among them. Its dome is 32 meters (105 feet) in diameter is considered the most beautiful dome in the world. It is believed that the Emperor Constantine had this church built in 325 AD on the foundations of a pagan temple. It was rebuilt after the fire of 415 AD by the emperor Theodosius II. And once more reconstructed by Justinian in 532 AD. The structure was restored several times and in 1453 it became a mosque with minarets, and a great chandelier was added. In 1935 it was transformed into a museum.
The church built as a domed octagon within a rectangle, with a columned Byzantine interior is also called the Mosque of Little Sophia and can be considered an architectural reconstruction of Hagia Sophia.
A massive tower that dominates the Galata district was built by the Genoese traders in 1349 as a watchtower and a fortification for their walled enclave.
The Mosque of Süleyman above the Golden Horn on the waterfront in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque, is world famous for its exquisite beauty was built in the 17th century and has six minarets instead of the usual four.
The mosques built in the 18th century or later show the influence of European architects and craftsmen that created Islamic Baroque architecture (such as the Mosque of the Fatih) and even Neoclassical style of the present Naval Museum (the former mosque from 19th century).
There are more than 400 fountains in Istanbul. The most beautiful fountain, built by the sultan Ahmed III in 1728 is behind the apse of Hagia Sophia. It is square, with marble walls and bronze carvings made in a mixture of the Turkish and the Western Rococo style.
To the north of it, toward the Golden Horn and occupying the whole tip of the promontory, is the sultan's Seraglio (Topkapi Palace), enclosed in a fortified wall. It was begun in 1462 by Mehmed II and served as the residence of the sultans until the beginning of the 19th century.
The Grand Bazaar is a place no tourist should miss visiting, with numerous shops around two central store houses, crowed by visitors, the place is bursting with life.
The Turkish Empire collapsed at the end of 1st World War in 1918. Modern Turkey was to be born. After the conclusion of the Armistice (1918) it was placed under British, French, and Italian occupation that lasted until 1923. The Greco-Turkish War in Asia Minor, as well as the Russian Revolution, brought thousands of refugees to Istanbul. With the victory of the Nationalists under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the sultan was dethroned and the last Ottoman sultan, Mehmed VI, fled from Istanbul (1922).
After the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, Istanbul was occupied by the Allies (October 2, 1923), and Ankara was chosen as the capital of Turkey (October 13, 1923). On October 29 the Turkish Republic was proclaimed. Because of Turkey's neutrality during most of World War II, Istanbul suffered no damage, although a German invasion was feared after the Balkans had been conquered by the Axis.
Beyoglu is considered as modern Istanbul. There are only a few structures there built before the 19th century. Located on the hill slopes there are big hotels and restaurants, theaters, the opera house, government offices, consulates and travel agencies.
North of the old city peninsula, across the Golden Horn, there is Galata, crowned by the Galata Tower. Istanbul Modern, with its exhibitions of contemporary Turkish art is on the nearby waterfront of Karaköy. Another sight of religious significance close by is the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall of Sufi Mevlevi order, just north of the Tower. Further north is the Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul's prominent pedestrian street running from near Galata Tower to Taksim Square, the central square of the whole city.
If you go westwards from the old city you will arrive on the banks of the Golden Horn estuary. An interesting quarter worth visiting here is Eyüp, where you can see the city’s holiest Islamic shrine and experience what daily life in Ottoman Istanbul was like. On the opposite shores of the Horn, in Sütlüce is the Miniaturk, where you can visit the first miniature park in the city, with miniature models of the settlements from the former Ottoman Empire.
North of Taksim Square is New Istanbul, main business district of the city. If venturing out to this direction, don't forget to check out the Military Museum, where Ottoman military music concerts (Mehter) are held every afternoon.
Most of the skyscrapers of the city are located in the north of this district, around Levent and Maslak, with a totally different skyline from that of the old city. In the southern part of this modern quarter you will see some fine Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau buildings from the turn of the 20th century. If you continue eastwards as you approach the shore you will come to the bank of Bosporus lined by pleasant neighborhoods full of waterfront mansions (yali) and a number of waterside palaces where you can admire what money could buy in times gone by.
Across the Bosporus to the east is the Asian Side, centered round the historical districts of Kadiköy and Üsküdar, and perhaps best symbolized by Maiden’s Tower, located at about the halfway between these districts, on an islet just off the shore. Bosporus and Marmara coasts of this city’s half are characterized by picturesque neighborhoods, overlooked by Çamlica Hill, one of the highest hills of the city with a wonderful view over the town, with a cafe and a pleasant park on its summit.
Southeast of the city, off the southern coast of Asian Side are the Princes’ Islands, an archipelago of nine car-free islands, characterized by stunning wooden mansions and pine groves.